Yesterday I had lunch at one of my favorite pasta spots in the West Village. Lupa, Mario Batali's "Osteria", is a relatively small but comfortable restaurant, with a full bar and authentic Italian food. I was with a large group for work (despite the title of this post – read on it will make sense), so we had to do a prix fixe, which isn't bad because you get 4 courses, and for lunch that's not a bad deal.
The first course I forgot to take pictures of, so forgive me, but it was great; cannelini beans with marinated tuna and red onion, beets in pistachio cream sauce, prosciutto and salami, assorted olives, and roasted butternut squash with toasted pumpklin seeds. Now THAT is a first course. The butternut squash was the table-favorite, served warm with a little bit of a sugary bite from the char on the skin. The beans and tuna were probably the second favorite, with flecks of cracked pepper, garlic and herbs. I personally liked the beets, but this is the third time I've seen pistachio cream sauce on a menu, and I'm still unsure of my feelings towards it. It has the consistency of baby food, and it kind of looks like it, and it also kind of smells like it. As for taste, it's been a while since I had a good jar of Gerber, but I imagine it tastes similar too. It's not really salty, it's not really sweet and it's ironically not that nutty either. It's a hard flavor to describe. Maybe it's an acquired taste. Regardless, I ate it because I love beets. And because I'm a fatty.
Moving on to my favorite portion of the meal…and no, it's not dessert. Again, more on that later. It was the pasta. Ricotta gnocchi in a homemade sweet fennel sausage ragu. Droooool. Fluffy pillows of ricotta dumplings coated lightly in this sweet tomato sauce was like a little bite of Italy. I have been to Lupa a few times now and while certain things on the menu don't always wow me, the pasta is delicious. Last time I was there I had an orecchiete pasta tossed with garlic breadcrumbs and toasted cauliflower. It was…amazing.
The third course we had a choice between wild striped bass, pork tenderloin, and chicken. I make it sound a lot more boring that way, because the Italian version was "Pollo alla Diavolo", which most of you might know means "spicy". Anytime you see the words "fra diavolo" or "alla diavolo" next to a dish, that's what it means. Fra diavolo in Italian means "brother devil", so devil = hell = fire = spicy. You learned something today. I got the chicken which was probably the most beautiful piece of chicken I have seen in a while, however the taste was nothing to write home about (even though I'm writing about it). The skin was the best part (though I guess it always is..?), with lots of cracked pepper and spices, but the chicken wasn't very meaty and it was a lot of dark meat, which I'm not a huge fan of. It's juicier, yes, but I prefer white meat. I'm a little racist when it comes to my chicken.
The last course was obviously the "dolci" or dessert course. Bring it on. It wasn't listed on the menu, so we didn't know what we were getting, but the end result was pretty funny. We were given two desserts: a vanilla/pineapple panna cotta and a tartufo (ice cream or gelato encased in a hard chocolate shell). Both very good, but there was something a little off about the panna cotta and I don't mean in taste. Take a look at the picture below and see if you notice anything interesting. There's a before and after.
It says SOLO! From the little plastic cups that they give you for salad dressing and parm cheese at a pizza place! Lupa apparently is feeling the wrath of the unstable economy as well. I'm not saying they should be storing their panna cotta in gold and crystal ramekins, but I think that's pretty funny AND you know it was just sitting in the fridge back there. It didn't affect the taste or anything but definitely not something I would expect from them. I can't even take credit for this one, unfortunately. Michael, one of my coworkers pointed it out. Good job Mike!
I still love the pasta at Lupa and would definitely go back, BUT I will add one more negative thing and then I'm done. We had a reservation at 12 pm and we got there at 11:50 am expecting to wait at the bar. However, the hostess told us we had to wait outside because they were still "setting up". Everything looked like it was set up and it was 30 degrees outside, but yea sure, we'll wait outside. I mean…come on. Our whole group wasn't even there, it was just three of us. So be forewarned, if you make a res at Lupa for 12 pm, get there at 12 or 12:05.